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  1. #1
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    Default Mid-career/mid-life thru-hiking and the family

    My wife and I attempted a thru-hike in 2011, had to stop after 800 miles due to injury. I've been wanting to get back out there to try again ever since (my wife not so much), but I'm in my late 30's, we now have 2 kids and I'm in the middle of a career. I've just proceeded as if post-kids or post-retirement would be the next opportunity I'd have, but my wife shocked me a few months ago and suggested I see if I can make it happen in the next few years. Her dad, who's wanted to thru-hike his whole life, recently had to concede that he was just too old and has too many health issues to do it, and I think that had an impact on my wife.


    I was wondering what other mid-career family men in their late 30's or 40's have done a thru-hike and what the experience was like for them. While my wife made the suggestion and is supportive, I wonder what it will be like when I say my goodbyes, walk down the trail and out of sight, and leave her and my 2 children (probably still) under the age of 10 alone for 5-ish months. They would come out and hike small sections with me and hang out in towns, but still, we'd be apart. AWOL mentions in his book a few times how he felt it was irresponsible or selfish of him, and I kinda feel the same way. What effects did your thru-hike have on you and your family? Do you or your family regret/resent your time on the AT, or was it more of a bonding experience? I have a very happy family, and I want to keep it that way. I like to think I'd come back from it a better husband and father, but I wonder how it all balances out.

    This would come with an approved leave of absence from work (already checked) and we would make sure all our finances are in order and covered while I'd be gone.
    Last edited by RyanK817; 12-30-2018 at 12:59.

  2. #2
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    You are one lucky man to have a wife like that! You have a couple of things going for you: First your wife knows what it is like on the trail. She has a good idea what you are going to go through. She is supportive of your hike. Not only is she supportive, but she initiated the idea. Second: A leave of absence.

    Your family will miss you and you them. There will be sacrifices. But in the long run, they are going to respect you so much more for pursuing this grand dream and you will be a role model for them to one day pursue their dreams.

    Never mind what others might have done. You could pose a million scenarios for how this could play out and, yes, there is a small chance some could be tragic. But not going when you have the opportunity would mean a lifetime of regret and that is 100% guaranteed.

    I am the oldest of 6 siblings and at 64 there is only one sister who might be physically capable of thru hiking the AT with me this year. Waiting for retirement is a big risk. So I say go for it. Hope to see you on the trail.

  3. #3
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    Not exactly in the same situation, but still some similarities.

    I was running a small business for 25yrs, have a very loving wife, a close family (6 kids - most grownups now), financially settled.
    In 2014 I found that I was on the brink of a burnout and decided to shutdown the business and take a year off.
    My wife simply stated "Do it!".
    I went abroad for hiking for 7 weeks.
    When I came back, we found it pretty difficult to re-connect, we were feeling a bit like strangers towards each other. It took us a few days to catch up and get into normal, loving life.
    Went abroad again for 8 weeks, but we managed that my wife and our little kid could join me for 2 weeks in the middle.
    This turned out to be a perfect pace. It was one of the best things ever I did.

    Two years later I got diagnosed cancer.
    First thing we both thought: So good that I did this year-off and hiking.

    Now, one year later, recovered from all the treatments, I'm preparing for my retirement and guess what else: preparing for an upcoming 7-weeks hike, again part of it together with the family.
    I'm just adjusting my hiking itinerary in a way, that the family (and the little kid) can join me part-time. Its not important for me any more to do a very specific adventure, but to live with the flow, family included.
    This would translate to your situation that you maybe put aside the goal of a real thru hike, and put the time together mixed into your main hike in the foreground.

  4. #4

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    Why make it all or nothing and so drastic? Why not start pulling solo weekend backpacking trips now as a precursor to The Big Hike---thereby getting a little taste of everything beforehand?

    And since you live in Chattanooga you're REAL close to some outstanding weekend destinations---Big Frog, John Muir on Hiwassee, Cohutta, Cumberland trail, Bald River wilderness ETC.

  5. #5
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    I agree with TW - weekend backpacking while your kids are minors. Going away for 5-6 months - how often are they going to join you on the trail? They're going to be in school nearly half of that time, right?

    Every family is different but I have always felt a general duty to be around or available. Not 100% of the time - that's unnecessary and unreasonable. But being completely gone from home for 5-6 months, and they come see you occasionally (and slow your progress, however pleasantly)? I would indeed feel selfish. Think of all the things that can happen in a 6-month window (medical issues, home repair/maint, etc) that you won't be around to help with or consult on. You give up some element of independence when you marry, and more when you have kids. It's usually no problem to be gone for a day. Going away for a weekend is usually fine too. A week is manageable, though a bit of a burden. Months at a time - well, I couldn't do it, and wouldn't want to, frankly. JMO, YMMV.

  6. #6
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    I didn't actually ask for everyone's general opinion on whether or not this is a good idea. I'm specifically asking for guys who have done this to share their experiences and opinions about it. I'm sure everyone has an opinion on something like this, but that's not really what I'm looking for.

  7. #7
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    Hi Ryan. Welcome to WB.


    Have a family group open discussion about under what backpacking scenario would you not feel irresponsible or selfish? I'd have that discussion first with my wife. She is offering valuable supportive family centered input. That's an asset not a liability with your concerns. 'Use' and perceive your family, your children, not as obstacles in the way of thru hiking but also as assets in ALL OF YOU having some experiences of a thru hike. If you can't, or aren't willing to do what's necessary to get there, don't attempt a thru hike. This is an US affair...not a this is only about me me me affair. People get this wrong when it comes to LD hiking romanticism.



    This is sending mixed messages that aren't accurate. "
    I wonder what it will be like when I say my goodbyes, walk down the trail and out of sight, and leave her and my 2 children (probably still) under the age of 10 alone for 5-ish months." You are not doing that! You said "they would come out and hike small sections with me and hang out in towns..." Organizing your(PLURAL) affairs this way can strengthen family bonds. Don't perceive what daddy and honey bear is doing as an alienated affair. A thru hike is not about one person hiking in an alienated bubble, more so when one has a family and you're a responsible family man not a selfish sc--bag. This is a textbook situation exposing the reality that a thru hike is not just about hiking! Call your family between town visitations. Make the town and on trail family visits family time NOT centered around me me me time. Let them know how you miss them. In turn let them do the same. Let them know how much you love them and appreciate them. Appreciation goes a long way. Engage. Make yourself present and available even though you're not always physically present. You do not have to approach a thru hike as, or perceive a thru hike by, defining it as an abandonment of your family and off trail life. If you(all of you, PLURAL) can't get beyond this don't thru hike. Do a thru hike of an AT section!



    Get one of these 3 ft AT strip map posters.
    http://www.atctrailstore.org/planning/official-a-t-maps/appalachian-trail-poster-map-strip/ In that family group meeting pull it out engaging everyone. Have the kids and wife follow along this FAMILY ORGANIZED JOURNEY. Put different colored pins in the map where daddy is, how far he walked, and where you're meeting up in person. Instill the idea of it as traveling where everyone gets experiences. Have the family involved in sending care packages. Inform the wife, since she's onboard already, to have the kids add something special to the care box. Send home momentos like a Amicalola Falls or GSMNP black bear fridge magnet, postcards, birthday, anniversary, report card good grades, etc acknowledging off trail life. This takes focus off separation and focuses on staying connected to the family. Let your family inspire you. You inspire your family. You have a hand influencing the family dynamic. You always have and you'll continue to do so positively when hiking. These approaches are something you're already familiar as a responsible supportive dad and husband. NOW, find ways to adopt them while you're on a thru hike.


    This is HYOH(Hike Your Own Hike). Too often that acronym is used in defense of alienated self indulgent behavior. Don't do that. You don't want to do that! You're a reasonable loving family connected dad and husband. Be responsible for organizing YOUR(PLURAL) hike to make it a more connected enjoyable family engaged affair. Don't perceive this situation as your(singular) hike. Think of this as our shared family experience. Do away with the me me me my my my mine mine mindset that sometimes infects LD hikers.


    Remember, a thru hike is rarely to never about truly alienating yourself. That is a significant misconception with profound consequences on the individual hiking, environment, and the many others you'll be meeting.

  8. #8
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    With no disrespect to your wife and since were adults: You're in your 30's or early 40's. I'd guess you have a similar aged wife. To put it bluntly, you're both "active." When organizing family meet ups schedule in alone uninterrupted quality wife husband romance time. Think of in what setting pushes her buttons, makes her feel appreciated and loved. Surprise her. Show her how much you love her in that you too can think and behave beyond yourself and your own desires and needs. Your kids are going to eventually leave the nest. Who's there? You have many happy future yrs. Foster that relationship with your wife.


    maybe she likes rustic lodges or is more

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by RyanK817 View Post
    I didn't actually ask for everyone's general opinion on whether or not this is a good idea. I'm specifically asking for guys who have done this to share their experiences and opinions about it. I'm sure everyone has an opinion on something like this, but that's not really what I'm looking for.
    Terribly sorry to have chimed in. I knew you wanted to hear from guys in similar circumstances who had done it; I didn't realize you ONLY wanted to hear from such people. Hope you can find such people and get some good advice.

  10. #10
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    You might want to reach out to Evan from Evan's Backpacking Videos on YouTube. He is the only person that comes to mind that would fit your scenario.
    AT: 471 mi

    Pinhoti Trail: 254 mi

    @leonidasonthetrail

  11. #11
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    Having deployed for a year and done numerous 1-4 month trips I can offer this advice. Keep track of what you do, household wise, over the next couple of years and develop a checklist with daily, weekly, monthly etc. tasks that you will leave with your wife. Additionally, ensure that she is very intimate with the family finances, bills, etc. Honestly, with today's technology and the ability to stay connected you are much more in touch than ever before. Yes, you aren't there but you will be able to have direct input, abeit somewhat delayed, with situations that arise. There will be times where guilt will enter you thoughts but as long as you've thoroughly discussed this with the family and they have buy-in you should be able to deal with these feelings. Let the family be involved with the planning process and leave a guidebook and/or a large map with them so that they can "follow" the trip. Go for it as mentioned there is no guarantee that come retirement you will have the physical ability to do the trip.
    Lonehiker

  12. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by RyanK817 View Post
    I didn't actually ask for everyone's general opinion on whether or not this is a good idea. I'm specifically asking for guys who have done this to share their experiences and opinions about it. I'm sure everyone has an opinion on something like this, but that's not really what I'm looking for.
    Looking for very rather narrow specific responses, the better place to post this would be in the Straight Forward section if you wish to limit response landscape.

  13. #13

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    Thumbs down

    Well, if your a decent hiker, not only can you do a simple AT hike
    You can take your kid with you
    And do triple crown while having her become youngest TC at age 13

    While wife has other young child at home, and is getting Masters degree.

    So ......lets hear excuses start flowing....

    (Yes, AT is a "simple" hike logistically. It requires no planning for any of it, except white mountains, just start walking)

    Eric Gjonnes did it, with extensive journaling on all 3 hikes . (Balls and Sunshine)
    Some googling should bring up all their journals, videos, etc. Covering personal relations, suport by wife, etc.
    http://nationaltrailsguide.com/tripl...roken-in-2013/


    Not everyone can do same things though.

    I find it interesting you used the words "try it again"
    There should be no doubt , none... Or your wasting everyones time (your family). This indicates reservations about abilities to me, or commitment.

    In the end, only you know if your finances and relationships can tolerate it. Would kids have to give anything up? Summer/fall sports? Would you really enjoy doing this without your family? Why?

    Theres lots of ways to do it, from simply dissapearing to having family involved every step of way, to frequent trips home. and time could be 4-6 mo depending on person. Shorter obviously better. If your a fast hiker with deep pockets, to you can be home frequently. A few days every couple weeks. (I once heard of a guy that lived in NY, played on a hockey team in denver CO. Flew out several times per week for practices and games....so anythings possible with $$$$) If pockets are shallow and your slow, you likely wont see family much.
    Last edited by MuddyWaters; 12-31-2018 at 10:19.

  14. #14

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    While this opinion is not coming from someone who has done what you are asking it got me thinking about husbands and wives who are deployed overseas for months or a year and still make their marriages successful. The key for them is to stay connected with family. Have them visit you...there was a great idea above about it being a family hike even if they aren't on the hike with you. Skype calls every couple of days etc. So I'd talk to anyone in the military you know who has been deployed away from their families too, not just hikers

  15. #15
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    BINGO! (Various OPs have asked Admins to move threads there if they want limited replies, as that's what it's for.)

    Quote Originally Posted by Traveler View Post
    Looking for very rather narrow specific responses, the better place to post this would be in the Straight Forward section if you wish to limit response landscape.
    ye shall not pollute the land wherein ye are: ... Defile not therefore the land which ye shall inhabit..... Numbers 35

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  16. #16
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    T I thruhiked the PCT at the age of 45. I was married with kids in high school or college. The biggest barriers is very likely financial. Putting income on hold with all the ills continuing is usually a show-stopper for most. In my case I was able to make this work by doing a 100 day hike which had its own set of challenges. But with three months off and using some accrued vacation I was able to take a short leave of absense and make it work financially. As far as the home front I was in a bit different situation. I will say that my wife was incredibly supportive of this and subsequent hikes but she is also an absolute saint.

    My two cents. A multi-month vacation is very selfish and I’m not saying this in a judgemental way. You can spin this anyway you want but you are doing a multi-month vacation while the rest of the family is holding down the fort. This is not nessesarily a bad thing but I believe some folks view a thru hike as some holy crusade which it is not.

    You are in somewhat of a unique position since your wife knows LD hiking and clearly knows what you are getting into. I believe this is a huge plus. Good luck either way. There are certainly other alternatives other than a thru hike that could either incorporate the family into the event or be less disruptive.
    enemy of unnecessary but innovative trail invention gadgetry

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    Quote Originally Posted by Malto View Post

    A multi-month vacation is very selfish and Iím not saying this in a judgemental way. You can spin this anyway you want but you are doing a multi-month vacation while the rest of the family is holding down the fort.
    ^precisely.

    Im glad someone said this. Most just beat around bush.
    Last edited by MuddyWaters; 01-01-2019 at 12:54.

  18. #18
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    Don't organize the hike by approaching it as a selfish alienated vacation away from the family affair. Make it a family oriented family centered experience.

    The Skype idea was a good one. Before Skype in 2006 what one thru hiking husband and dad did is hike with a compact small satellite dish(it looked like a Japanese Geisha foldable hand fan when not in use) and foldable laptop(when folded was barely larger and heavier than a deck of playing cards, I was impressed) having live face to face connections with the wife and kids every 2 days or so. Another Australian thru hiker, who was a middle school teacher, every about 2-3 days had a similar set up. And, the Australian was avg high 30's per day to complete the thru before school started back up. These examples were 10 yrs ago. Tech growth and 'connectivity" ability has exploded since then offering creative new lighter wt and compact ways to stay connected. Doing a modern AT thru hike no one has to be always consistently disconnected unless they want... for the AT and PCT especially so!


    Organize your as a connected husband and father.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by RyanK817 View Post
    My wife and I attempted a thru-hike in 2011, had to stop after 800 miles due to injury. I've been wanting to get back out there to try again ever since (my wife not so much), but I'm in my late 30's, we now have 2 kids and I'm in the middle of a career. I've just proceeded as if post-kids or post-retirement would be the next opportunity I'd have, but my wife shocked me a few months ago and suggested I see if I can make it happen in the next few years. Her dad, who's wanted to thru-hike his whole life, recently had to concede that he was just too old and has too many health issues to do it, and I think that had an impact on my wife.


    I was wondering what other mid-career family men in their late 30's or 40's have done a thru-hike and what the experience was like for them. While my wife made the suggestion and is supportive, I wonder what it will be like when I say my goodbyes, walk down the trail and out of sight, and leave her and my 2 children (probably still) under the age of 10 alone for 5-ish months. They would come out and hike small sections with me and hang out in towns, but still, we'd be apart. AWOL mentions in his book a few times how he felt it was irresponsible or selfish of him, and I kinda feel the same way. What effects did your thru-hike have on you and your family? Do you or your family regret/resent your time on the AT, or was it more of a bonding experience? I have a very happy family, and I want to keep it that way. I like to think I'd come back from it a better husband and father, but I wonder how it all balances out.

    This would come with an approved leave of absence from work (already checked) and we would make sure all our finances are in order and covered while I'd be gone.
    Quote Originally Posted by RyanK817 View Post
    I didn't actually ask for everyone's general opinion on whether or not this is a good idea. I'm specifically asking for guys who have done this to share their experiences and opinions about it. I'm sure everyone has an opinion on something like this, but that's not really what I'm looking for.
    While I ultimate chose NOT to hike, I was in a similar situation to yours back in the early-mid 1990's. 35-40 years old, mid-career, 4 young children. I had left a thru at around 500 miles in the late 1970's. My wife was supportive, but truthfully with some reservations (don't under-estimate how tough it is on the spouse that "stays behind" while one is away fulfilling what is ultimately a very selfish endeavor). We were pretty well off financially, but even so, the opportunity cost when added to the spousal burden was what eventually made it a no-go. We figured the opportunity cost of the hike was somewhere around 7 to 8 months of lost income coming directly out of savings. Ongoing fixed/family expenses, PLUS the cost of the hike, all had to come out of savings. A half-year worth of income today is a LOT of money 20 years from now at compounded interest. The attempt (and that is what it is, an attempt, with about a 25% success rate) would have cost about $30-35K OUT OF SAVINGS at the time. If I had taken the full 6-7 months time off, I would have roughly $135K less in retirement savings today. That can delay retirement by many years - and those years grow much more valuable as you get older.

    We (mostly I) weighed all the considerations, both identified and possible:
    Burden on spouse, children, family.
    TRUE long-term financial costs to family and self.
    Burden on hiker (homesickness, guilt leaving spouse/family).
    Probability of success (due to injury, trail burnout, family issues).
    Positive/negative effects of thru-hiking vs section-hiking.

    Made the decision not to go and just section-hike more. Regrets? Or, more accurately, wondering what if? Sure. Life is a series of choices. Lots of them. You can't do everything or choose both roads. So, you always wonder what if. The possibilities are endless. But potential outcomes are both good and bad. And you'll never know.

    Dogwood brings up the advances in tech that can potentially lessen some of the "being away" aspects of doing this. To what degree this helps, I don't know. I doubt it would change my decision making, but it may for others.

    Everybody's desires and situation are different. Good luck on your decision whichever way it goes.
    Last edited by 4eyedbuzzard; 01-01-2019 at 14:21.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by Malto View Post
    T I thruhiked the PCT at the age of 45. I was married with kids in high school or college. The biggest barriers is very likely financial. Putting income on hold with all the ills continuing is usually a show-stopper for most. In my case I was able to make this work by doing a 100 day hike which had its own set of challenges. But with three months off and using some accrued vacation I was able to take a short leave of absense and make it work financially. As far as the home front I was in a bit different situation. I will say that my wife was incredibly supportive of this and subsequent hikes but she is also an absolute saint.

    My two cents. A multi-month vacation is very selfish and I’m not saying this in a judgemental way. You can spin this anyway you want but you are doing a multi-month vacation while the rest of the family is holding down the fort. This is not nessesarily a bad thing but I believe some folks view a thru hike as some holy crusade which it is not.

    You are in somewhat of a unique position since your wife knows LD hiking and clearly knows what you are getting into. I believe this is a huge plus. Good luck either way. There are certainly other alternatives other than a thru hike that could either incorporate the family into the event or be less disruptive.
    Thanks for the insight. You're right, it is a selfish thing, and over the next few years I plan to gauge just how okay my wife would be for me to actually do this. She is a saint as well, and I'm absolutely not doing a thru-hike if she's not 100% on board. She said she would bring the kids out a lot, and there's the potential that it could be a good experience for them too. Thanks again.

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